The American Intellectual History Since 1877 Essay Sample

American Thought

Donald Richard DeLillo is a famous American author; he wrote sixteen novels and many other writings about the problems in the modern life of the American society. At the age of forty-nine, the writer finished his famous book White Noise, which forced the global society to recognize him as one of the famous world’s writers. In 1985, it brought him the National Book Award. Moreover, Don DeLillo became twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and won multiple National awards for his literary works. In the novel White Noise, the writer describes a common American family, its life in the modern society and problems, which it has to solve. All thoughts, actions, and deeds of a human being connect the past with the present, but the fear of death makes people commit errors. In the modern epoch, Americans have changed their views on the superheroes; they have to live, fight for life, and survive without any ideological ideals. The problem is what one will leave behind him or her after the death.

The novel White Noise is dedicated to the existence of a human being in the modern world and relations between an individual and the society, in which any superhero is a fiction. Thus, the author compares the world to a wagon, in which people as students travel the life. They solve their problems and have different worldviews and interests, but their point of destination is death irrespective of their hopes and desires. Everybody knows it and does not want to die. The fear of death made Babette, the wife of the main character, Professor Jack Gladney, take drugs, which destroyed her psychic health. Professor Gladney gave lessons of Hitler at the university because he believed that the dictator’s theory could save a crowd from the fear of death, “Crowds came to form a shield… to become a crowd is to keep out death” (DeLillo, 2012, p. 88). Thus, Hitler became his idol, and even one of his colleagues, Murray J. Siskind, wanted to adopt the experience of Gladney for studying Elvis Presley. In fact, Gladney described Hitler as an ordinary person, who managed to become a strong personality.

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In the modern life, the American society turned into the nation of consumers having neither leaders nor dictators. As Gladney considered, the society needed a powerful hand for the further development. He said it to his students. At the same time, his kids existed in their world without his direct control. Of course, the man lived in the past in his thoughts and could not see the present. Thus, only his daughter discovered that Babette took drugs. It was a real tragedy for Professor. Both he and his wife, Babette, were afraid of death when they got to know that they could die of a toxic substance of Nyodene Din in the blood. Hazardous environment and illness of the wife brought Gadley to his end. Consequently, he decided to kill a man, who gave drugs to Babette. The crucial moment emerged when Gadley, who was afraid of death, was killing Gray. Fear, rage, evil, and suffering turned the man to a criminal, even though, it was an unsuccessful attempt. In the result, injured Gadley brought injured Gray to the hospital. Professor experienced what human beings felt when killing each other. He saw how Gray was dying after his shot. Of course, it was a shock to him. At the same time, Gadley experienced a similar feeling what Gray did when Gray injured him. Of course, the man’s decision to save the life of his victim changed his vision of how an avenger should act. Nevertheless, nobody knew what both men felt being near their ends. The situation mentioned above resembles actions of the United States after the World War II when it gave financial credits to Germany and Japan for rebuilding their economies. Therefore, in the modern epoch, Americans have changed their views on superheroes; they have to live, fight for life, and survive without any ideological ideals. The problem is what one will leave behind him or her after the death.

In the novel White Noise, Don DeLillo described the contemporary society of the United States with its problems and happy times on the example of Professor Jack Gadley’s family. While studying Hitler’s ideology, the man could not see all the problems, which emerged in his family. His children lived in their world; his wife became drug addicted, and his life turned into a pointless existence. By committing a crime, Gadley helped his victim. He exercised generosity, which was one of the major features of the American people’s national character.
Historical and Intellectual Contexts of the Works of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and SDS.

“Letters from a Birmingham Jail”

A great American human rights fighter, Martin Luther King, was a leader of the whole Human Rights Movement. His father gave him the best education he could, and in 1955, Martin Luther King got the Ph.D. degree after finishing his education at the Boston University. Being a Christian minister, Martin Luther King supported non-violent relationships between people, which were to be based on love to God and neighbors. Mahatma Gandhi became his favorite teacher. “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” proved to be a powerful means of gaining human rights for hundreds of thousands of the African Americans. Non-violent actions, as well as ideas of Christian love and brotherhood, have transformed the American society, making it more humane and democratic.

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In 1963, Martin Luther King was imprisoned in the Birmingham jail for the non-violent demonstration against racism in Birmingham. There, King wrote his immortal “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” which made him one of the prominent American politicians. Martin Luther King addressed eight white clergymen for support of the peaceful demonstrations, which in their eyes were “not peaceful, ethical, or moral solution to the racial problem” (Bass, 2001, p. 25). On the one hand, the clergymen desired peace and harmony in the city, and on the other hand, they did not want to solve any racial problem at all, stating that the African Americans should not raise these questions because it was too early at that time.

Martin Luther King understood the strength of the Christian teaching in such disputes. Therefore, he provided examples from the Bible, lives of famous ancient philosophers, and some historical events in order to prove his rightness. As a matter of fact, he put his opponents in a situation, in which they could do nothing but recognize his rightness. Otherwise, they would consider Jesus Christ a criminal. Of course, nobody could make such a conclusion. Moreover, this letter was published in newspapers and magazines and appeared in other mass media. At the same time, Martin Luther King raised a problem of the fair justice in Birmingham. King’s letter disturbed the whole country. It was not a mob of several hundreds of African Americans, once inspired by Malcolm X, but a multimillion population of the United States. Moreover, Martin Luther King considered African Americans an integral part of the American nation, without which the United States would have been a sweet dream of the European colonists.

Martin Luther King’s examples and philosophical reasoning of the demonstration were the most convenient evidence of his rightness. As a matter of fact, nobody could charge him with any crime. Contrary, Martin Luther King defended his civil rights and civil rights of all the African Americans, which were violated by the white racists.

“Port Huron Statement”

A famous American political activist, director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center, Tom Hayden, wrote SDS’s manifesto. As Tom Hayden (2005) states, “The Port Huron Statement called for a coalescing of social movements: civil rights, peace, labor, liberals, and students” (p. 14). He supports the leftist movements in creating a radically new democracy in the United States. In fact, Hayden supported the Communists. He became a human rights activist, who organized a powerful anti-war movement in order to withdraw the American troops from Vietnam. His famous work “Port Huron Statement” was aimed at the improvement of the students’ self-government; it changed the political climate in the United States by rejecting bureaucracy. Non-violent actions have improved democracy in the United States by changing relations between officials and common people. At the same time, the Communist ideas posed a real threat to the whole American civic society because it leads to a totalitarian political regime.

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Tom Hayden and other fifty-eight radical activists wrote the “Port Huron Statement” in 1962. At that time, a progressive student movement SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, conducted their actions in order to establish more democratic relations between officials and the society. In the manifesto of the movement, the authors define problems in the country and explain their radical viewpoints, which aim to improve democracy for the sake of the future. At the same time, the authors stated that employing the leftist and Communist viewpoints on internationalism in the American policy could solve the interracial issues in the country. On the other hand, they opposed bureaucracy, stating that it was the main reason for all problems, which the American graduate students faced in their life after finishing their education. Thus, the so-called New Left Movement could protect the students’ human rights opposing racism and the Cold War. Of course, the leftist policy undermined traditional American individualism and certain freedoms of a person.

Improving democracy in a student community within an educational establishment was not the same to changing the whole society, as the activists had imagined. The excessive focus on the Communist principles would cause a natural sequence of abolishing the private property, and it would change the whole political system of the United States. The improvement of relations with the Soviet Union in the Cold War would be possible only under the Soviet conditions; consequently, it would mean the defeat of the whole international policy of the United States.

“The Ballot or the Bullet”

A famous African American leader, Malcolm X, had a quite different viewpoint on the further development of the Civil Rights Movement. As Foner (2011) states, the man was against the idea of non-violent resistance. He considered the Black Nationalism the only opportunity for the liberation of the African Americans. Malcolm X stated, “Christianity as a religion designed for slaves and the Negro clergy as the curse of the black man, exploiting him for their own purposes” (as cited in X & Haley, 1992, p. xii). In his work “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm X appealed to the African Americans to unite around the idea of liberating their communities from the whites irrespective of their religious or political views. Malcolm X did not distinguish capitalism from socialism, but he proclaimed the superiority of his race over the whites. It made him a weak politician.

In 1964, Malcolm X wrote his work “The Ballot or the Bullet” for a speech to be delivered at a Methodist Church of the African American community in Cleveland, Ohio. Being a Muslim, Malcolm X called for the African Americans to defend their rights on running their communities. He wanted to develop the Black Nationalism as the major policy of the Human Rights Movement. At the same time, he rejected any non-violent actions as the whites severely humiliated the African Americans. Thus, he supported racial segregation stating the African race to be supreme over the European one. In his speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm X (1964) states that the African Americans had to unite in a political bloc while the whites would be divided “to determine who’s going to sit in the White House and who’s going to be in the dog house” (X p. 76). Although Malcolm X blamed officials for the degradation of the African American communities, he hoped that fair elections would change the situation. At the same time, the activist expected the Government to pass the civil rights acts that would improve the situation. Otherwise, the African Americans had to take weapons for the defense of their rights.

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Malcolm X’s nationalist policy helped create the African American national communities, develop their culture, educational establishments, enforce ties with the African peoples and countries, and attract attention to the racial problem in the American society. At the same time, he strongly opposed the non-violent struggle and did not understand the difference between political parties. All these issues made him a weaker politician.

In 1918, the wide-known American Creed determined that the United States authorities had been established to serve the needs of the whole American nation. The three literary works of SDS leader Tom Hayden, Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, and the Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X demonstrate how they appealed to the authorities on behalf of their communities with the aim to solve various political problems. They proved the necessity to make decisions for establishing more democratic relations between authorities and their communities. Thus, Tom Hayden and Martin Luther King gained certain success in solving racial and bureaucratic problems, and Malcolm X persuaded the African Americans to unite in their struggle. At the same time, only non-violent political actions can gain success in the country. Any propaganda of armed conflicts and riots leads to terrorism; therefore, it will be considered hostile to the whole nation. As a matter of fact, each political party represents only a small part of the society, which does not have any right to kill people for their opposite political views. Only a dialog with authorities can solve all the problems present in the society. Therefore, Martin Luther King remains the most powerful political leader among those three. His work changed the whole opinion of the society and created conditions for a further dialog with the authorities.

American Multiculturalism

African Americans initiated the Civil Rights Movement, which became a crucial point in the development of the civic society in the first successful republic in the world, which had rich democratic traditions. African Americans enriched American democracy, which made the United States the most powerful country in the world at the end of the twentieth century. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the African American community as an integral part of the American nation in the past and present times. Moreover, such great intellectuals and political leaders as W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X made a sufficient contribution to the further development of the real democratic society in the United States. They aimed to turn the country into the world’s leader of the wealthy and happy people, human rights, and liberty. American multiculturalism became a powerful solution to all the problems of inequality, which existed in the society.

W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X were the true leaders of the African American society, who determined the further development of its democracy. They exercised different religions, and W. E. B. Du Bois even was an atheist, but they were united by love to their society and strived to improve the African Americans’ life in the United States. W. E. B. Du Bois occupied a special place in the hierarchy of the most prominent fighters for the human rights. He was the first African American, who earned a doctorate from the Harvard University. In 1909, W. E. B. Du Bois found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which was one of the most significant organizations in protecting the human rights of all people of the non-European race. He considered African Americans an integral part of the American nation and thought that multiculturalism was the most prominent solution for the further development of the American society.

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James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X were sons of the Christian preachers, but only Martin Luther King preserved his parents’ faith becoming a Christian clergyman. Of course, Martin Luther King backed multiculturalism of W. E. B. Du Bois. Both leaders supported the idea of developing various cultural traditions in the United States as the parts of a single national American culture. They opposed racial segregation of Malcolm X, who considered African Americans a different nation, which had to exist separately from the whites. Therefore, Martin Luther King criticized Malcolm X for that position. The activist could not support the Communists, but they shared his non-violent actions against racial discrimination. Moreover, he did not approve atheism of W. E. B. Du Bois, who welcomed the ideologies of the Socialists and Communists.

Malcolm X was a leader of the Black Nationalists, who denied multiculturalism as a hostile social movement. He hated the whites because he considered that they only committed crimes, humiliated, and killed African Americans, and spread sins like devils. As Malcolm X stated, he “refused to see the impossibility of the white man conceding secession from the United States; at this stage in his career he contended it was the only solution” (X & Haley, 1992, p. xii). He believed that the African Americans could develop own culture, community, science, and economy with the separation from the United States. At the same time, Malcolm X could not distinguish socialism from capitalism, and when he was asked to tell his opinion about socialism, he wanted to know whether it will bring any benefit to the African Americans. He claimed that the African Americans should return to any independent African country, and this idea was supported by many of his adepts. In the result, many Africans left the United States for Africa with the help of some special funds, established for this purpose. At the same time, Malcolm X improved the cultural, educational, and political development of the African Americans. Of course, he made many mistakes in the struggle against the white racism, and he recognized it. In the course of time, Malcolm X could have come close to Martin Luther King if they both had not been killed.

James Baldwin began his career as a Christian priest but converted to Islam. He was a famous American author, who cooperated with many newspapers. James Baldwin was a real pattern of how an African American’s literary activity became a part of the National culture. He gained worldwide recognition for his works The Fire Next Time, No Name in the Street, and The Devil Finds Work. James Baldwin shared the views of both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. He understood the whole racial problem of the American society and also supported the sexual minority movement for its human rights. James Baldwin had influenced Martin Luther King for some time, but finally, King refused to maintain relations with Baldwin. Of course, James Baldwin claimed multiculturalism to be a major means of solving racial problems, but he appreciated Malcolm X in the establishment and development of the native African American traditions and customs.

American multiculturalism could exist only with the activities of such political leaders as W. E. B. Du Bois, who had developed this theory, Martin Luther King, who had proved that African Americans were an integral part of the American nation, and James Baldwin, whose literary works became a part of the American National culture. Malcolm X rejected multiculturalism but encouraged the development of the native African American culture, which took its significant place in the whole multicultural life of the United States. Therefore, all of them made their great contribution to the development of the American civil society in spite of their different political views, religions, and beliefs in the future life of the African American society.